Research & Commentary: Should Kentucky Increase Its Minimum Wage?

Published February 25, 2014

Kentucky legislators are now considering a bill, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, that would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over a three-year period. Kentucky’s current minimum wage is equal to the federal minimum wage and competitive with all of its neighboring states. A minimum wage of $10.10 would be far higher than those of Kentucky’s neighbors—the proposed rate is even higher than those now being considered in Illinois and Michigan ($10.00 and $9.50 respectively). 

Proponents of minimum wage laws say their purpose is to create a minimum standard of living to protect employees’ health and well-being. But what minimum wage laws actually do is outlaw the hiring of anyone willing to work for less than the amount specified in the law. It becomes illegal to hire anyone whose productivity is less than what is necessary to justify a higher wage. Labor union leaders have been the main advocates of higher minimum wage laws in many states as they seek to protect union workers from competition from nonunion workers. Consumers, too, are victimized: They are forced to pay higher prices for goods and services.

The damage minimum wage laws inflict on less-skilled workers is not just a theory. A survey of economic research conducted by economists at the University of California-Irvine and the Federal Reserve Board, published in 2007, found 85 percent of the studies they considered credible demonstrate minimum wage laws cause job losses for less-skilled workers

The proposed increase in Kentucky also would increase government spending. The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission found raising the minimum wage would create an unfunded mandate of $40.4 million on Kentucky schools in just its first ten years, plus $42 million in unfunded mandates on city and county governments across Kentucky over the same period. 

Supporters of these laws argue they protect workers from exploitation by employers and reduce poverty. Opponents cite evidence that increasing minimum wage laws is not an effective way to address poverty and often has the opposite effect by creating barriers to entry for workers with less skill and education. In a 2010 study, economists at Cornell University and American University found no reduction in poverty in the 28 states that raised their minimum wage between 2003 and 2007. 

When minimum wage laws require businesses to pay their workers higher wages, businesses have to make adjustments elsewhere to offset the increased costs in order to maintain profitability. These cuts lead to reduced hiring, fewer work hours for employees, diminished fringe benefits for employees, and higher prices for consumers. Increasing the legal minimum wage is not an effective method of addressing poverty, and it harms workers by creating barriers to entry for less-skilled and less-educated people. Increasing Kentucky’s minimum wage will put more people out of jobs and slow the state’s economy. 

The following articles examine minimum wage hikes and their effects on employment.

Minimum Wage the Key to Alleviating Poverty? You must be Dreaming
Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute, argues studies of the effects of the minimum wage “strongly indicate that forcing a higher minimum wage on employers will neither solve the poverty problem nor benefit the group which supporters claim they want to help.” 

Minimum Wage Job Bill a Job Killer
In this article from the Winchester Sun, Donna Mayfield examines several major problems Kentucky would face if it enacted a minimum wage hike. “If we truly care about Kentucky and its people, then we in the General Assembly should be focused on passing legislation that will help our business community grow and compete which in turn will create more jobs. To place an unnecessary burden simply because it is an election year will only contribute to the further decline of our Commonwealth,” she writes. 

Do Workers a Disservice—Raise the Minimum Wage
In this Public Interest Institute Institute Brief, Robert N. Stewart argues minimum wage laws actually hurt the people they are designed to help: “Most of these people are teenagers working part-time or unskilled workers seeking to advance to higher paying positions. To many of these workers, raising the minimum wage will either result in unemployment or a lower-paying position. Raising the minimum wage, altruistic as it may feel, is actually doing these workers a disservice.” 

The Minimum Wage Delusion, and the Death of Common Sense
Writing for Forbes, James A. Dorn of the Cato Institute argues the commonly held belief that the minimum wage helps the poor is a delusion: “The belief that increasing the minimum wage is socially beneficial is a delusion. It is short-sighted and ignores evident reality. Workers who retain their jobs are made better off but only at the expense of unskilled, mostly young, workers who either lose their jobs or can’t find a job at the legal minimum.” 

Busting 5 Myths About the Minimum Wage
James Sherk of The Heritage Foundation debunks five myths about minimum wage workers, often used by proponents of minimum wage laws: “A higher minimum wage would help some workers, but few of them are poor. The larger effect is hurting the ability of potential workers living in poverty to get their foot in the door of employment. A minimum wage hike might help politicians win plaudits from the press, but it wouldn’t reduce poverty rates.” 

Unintended Consequences of Raising the Minimum Wage
Antony Davies of the Mercatus Center examines arguments for and against minimum wage increases and presents new results comparing employment for workers with differing educational attainments. 

The Negative Effects of Minimum Wage Laws
Mark Wilson of the Cato Institute reviews the economic models used to understand minimum wage laws and examines the empirical evidence. Wilson describes how most of the academic evidence shows minimum wage laws have negative effects, and he discusses why some studies produced seemingly positive results. 

The Negative Effects of the Minimum Wage
David R. Henderson of the National Center for Policy Analysis examines several of the negative effects of the minimum wage, including its effect on unemployment, job benefits, and competition. 

Research & Commentary: Earned Income Tax Credit vs. Minimum Wage Laws
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and minimum wage laws have been two of the primary mechanisms the federal and state governments have used to help low-income families move out of poverty. A debate is currently ongoing in many state legislatures and Congress over which of these two policies is more effective and should be expanded. Recent studies have shown the EITC to be more effective. In this Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines the Earned Income Tax Credit and minimum wage laws from multiple perspectives. 

Minimum Wages and Employment: A Review of Evidence from the New Minimum Wage Research
David Neumark and William Wascher review the literature on the employment effects of minimum wages—in the United States and other countries—that was spurred by new minimum wage research beginning in the early 1990s. Their review indicates there is a wide range of estimates and, accordingly, a lack of consensus about the overall effects on low-wage employment of an increase in the minimum wage. Their review found very few studies that provided convincing evidence of positive employment effects of minimum wages. 

Thinking about Local Living Wage Requirements
Timothy J. Bartik of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research reviews what is currently known about the benefits and costs of different varieties of a “living wage”: a local government requirement, now adopted by more than 50 local governments, for wages above the federal minimum imposed on employers with some financial link to the local government. The paper concludes moderate living wage requirements applied to the local government’s own employees, and contractors’ and grantees’ employees who are funded by the local government, may do more good than harm. However, excessive living wages or living wages applied to non-city-funded workers are more likely to have negative side-effects. 

Living Wage and Earned Income Tax Credit: A Comparative Analysis
Writing for the Employment Policies Institute, Mark Turner and Burt Barnow argue “living wage” laws are vastly less efficient than localized Earned Income Tax Credit programs. 

Minimum Wages, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Employment: Evidence from the Post-Welfare Reform Era
David Neumark and William Wascher examine the effects of minimum wages and the EITC in the post-welfare reform era. 

Raising the Minimum Wage Hurts Vulnerable Workers’ Job Prospects without Reducing Poverty
Although minimum wage laws are intended to reduce poverty, in reality they encourage teenagers to drop out of school and reduce low-income workers’ future job prospects and earnings, observes James Sherk of The Heritage Foundation.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the FIRE Policy News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at 

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Institute Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].